The South African government is lobbying both the Republicans and Democrats for an extension to the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) although the US Congress has not yet set a date for its renewal.
Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel told joint parliamentary committees on Tuesday that the government wants the preferential trade agreement to be extended as it had benefitted the country by raising export earnings, and would boost investor confidence.
Patel echoed President Cyril Ramaphosa who called for an extension to Agoa, while speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Algoa is due to expire in 2015.
Patel said the government had met with key members of Congress and senior officials in President Joe Biden’s administration in a bid to secure an early ten-year extension to Agoa.
“The future participation of Agoa is governed by two processes. Firstly, there are annual reviews of eligibility, (determining) which countries continue to meet the criteria.
“The second one is the renewal of Agoa beyond 2025. The annual review is a requirement of Congress. They can (also) do what is also called out-of-cycle reviews, and are currently busy with a review.
A report is expected in November, Patel said.
“There has been engagement at the ministerial level with the office of the US Trade Representative.
“Those discussions have taken place from 2019 to 2023 during this administration with a number of meetings
“We also had meetings with other Cabinet members in the US like the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of State,” Patel said.
Agoa has been in force since 2000 and covers more than 5 000 export products. It has already been extended three times.
However, Democratic Alliance Western Cape spokesperson on finance, ecomomic opportunities and tourism, Cayla Murray, said Patel’s briefing had left critical questions unanswered, casting a shadow of uncertainty over the number of jobs at stake.
“Rather than providing the necessary insights into South Africa’s inclusion in any potential renewal of Agoa, the briefing was abruptly cut short, leaving members of the Western Cape Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Opportunities and Tourism, who had received special permission to attend, without a proper opportunity to gain clarity on this matter,” Murray said.
She said the DA had for months pressed Patel for feedback regarding Agoa which was “an economic lifeline” that grants preferential access to the US market for African nations.
“The Western Cape alone has more than 136 000 jobs in the agriculture sector directly dependent on Agoa, according to the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.
“Despite numerous invitations, Minister Patel has declined to appear before the Standing Committee since May, instead pointing to today’s briefing as the platform to address members’ concerns. “Regrettably, this meeting was prematurely curtailed, leaving many critical issues unresolved,” Murray said.
She added that she would write to Mandla Rayi, chairperson of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Economic Development, Small Business Development, Tourism, Employment and Labour, seeking an explanation for the early termination of the meeting and exploring options for a follow-up briefing.